On yet another steaming hot summer evening in Austin, with the work day over and the sun beginning to think about setting, Jonathan Alden set up shop on one of the practice greens at the Jimmy Clay and Roy Kizer golf courses and hit putts, the start of his final preparation ahead of this week’s Austin Men’s City Championship.
Clay/Kizer’s driving range — as impressive as they come for a city course — lurked behind him. But full-swing work was going to have to wait. For Alden, this summer has mostly been about the flat stick, and his lack of success on the greens has seemingly created a mental block in his mind.
“For me, it’s all about my putting,” Alden said Monday as he hit yet another 15-footer.
Ironically enough, what lied in the distance just a few hundred yards away was Jimmy Clay’s 18th green — the site of Alden’s biggest triumph in his golfing life, and the scene for one of the biggest putts he’s made in his career.
During last year’s Men’s City Championship, Alden, a 30-year-old managing partner with Austin-based Worldwide Golf Adventures, began the final round in the lead by four at 14 under and oozing with confidence. He was playing the best golf of his life, and now it was time to close the deal.
But a devastating quadruple bogey came at the par-5 16th when Alden dumped two balls into the greenside water hazard. He walked to the 17th tee box with a nine on the scorecard and now trailed by two shots with just two holes to play. Alden’s dream of winning the city title was all but over.
“Anybody who’s watched me play golf knows I can run a little hot at times,” Alden said. “But for some reason walking to the next tee, I felt like…a par and a birdie for sure would at least tie me, which is something that I’ve done plenty of times. I just had some sort of calm come over me for some reason.”
Alden steadied himself and parred the par-4 17th, then watched his playing partner, Seger Howell, who now led Alden by two after beginning the day four back, make a costly bogey. Alden now trailed by only one shot with one to play. Jimmy Clay’s 18th hole — easily the toughest finishing hole among the Austin city courses — now became the site of one last stand for Alden.
He piped his tee shot down the fairway while Howell pulled his ball left into the water hazard. All of a sudden, the door was open for Alden. In between clubs for his second shot, he hit his approach into the greenside bunker, then splashed out to about six feet. Howell, meanwhile, was making a mess of the 18th and left himself with about 15 feet for bogey, which he missed.
The Men’s City title now hinged on Alden’s six-footer, but in the back of his mind he wasn’t certain of that fact. This isn’t professional golf after all. There are no scoreboards with live updates, and it can be very difficult at times to gauge where you are on the leaderboard.
“I wasn’t entirely sure what the rest of the people had done up ahead of us,” Alden said, “but I knew where I stood with Seger and felt like ‘get this up and down and I’m in a good spot.’”
Alden drained the putt to make par and finish at 7 under — carding a final-round, 7-over 79 — and then he received confirmation of what had just happened.
“Yeah man, you won it,” Alden’s caddie said to him.
After knocking on the door for years in the Austin Men’s City with multiple top-10 finishes, Alden was finally the champion. Alden, a Westlake High School alumnus, grew up playing golf in Austin and had always dreamed of winning this tournament. It just so happened that leading up to it his play was red-hot, and he had an abnormal amount of confidence in his game.
“It was an unbelievable feeling,” Alden said of the win. “Right before that tournament I told my wife, ‘Look, I normally just enjoy playing well, but I was like I think I’m gonna be disappointed if I don’t win this tournament. I just feel like I’m playing well enough, and I think I’m gonna win it.’”
Now, a year later, as he was just beginning a practice session at Clay/Kizer on Monday evening, Alden admitted that his game has slipped. He finished tied for eighth at the Spring Championship in March and second at the Mid-Am Match Play in June. His most recent outing, the Firecracker Open, was more disappointing. He failed to break par in all three rounds and finished tied for 37th.
Alden said the biggest issue that has ailed his game recently has been his putting, which is one reason why he immediately anchored himself on the practice green after arriving at Clay/Kizer on Monday.
He then headed for the practice range and went through his normal routine, mixing in plenty of wedge work while going through his bag and hitting plenty of different shots. It was as stress free and laid back as practice sessions come, and Alden, for what it’s worth, didn’t miss a shot.
“Definitely all of my range sessions this year have not looked like that,” Alden said as he slung his golf bag around his shoulder and headed back to the practice green to hit some chip shots. “That was pretty good.”
On Thursday, Alden and 155 other local amateur players will tee it up for the 2018 Austin Men’s City Championship. Alden enters the tournament with a title he’s never had before — defending champion.
“I feel very confident in the Men’s City,” Alden said. “I’m not gonna say I feel like I’m gonna win it or anything, but I think I’m gonna play well. I mean we’ll see. I think I have a good chance. I always go into it feeling like I have a good chance.”
The 30-year-old possesses an undenying and unwavering passion for golf. It’s why three-and-a-half years ago, despite having a steady job with an actuarial firm, he decided to give it up and join his business partner in starting up a golf travel business, Worldwide Golf Adventures, allowing him more flexible hours so he could devote more time to his golf game.
At the beginning of 2017, Alden, a former standout on the Trinity University golf team, said he made a conscious decision to get serious about the game again and play and practice as much as possible.
“Part of my fun I have playing golf is playing well. I’m not the best casual golfer,” Alden said. “If I’m gonna play I might as well try to play well.
“It’s been really a grind trying to start my own company. But it’s just a lot more rewarding to be working for myself. Honestly, it’s probably made me happier on the golf course. I’m able to perform a little bit better just knowing I go to work, I do something I enjoy.”
Last summer, Alden said he played “probably the best golf of my life,” which all culminated in his victory at the Austin Men’s City Championship.
This summer, his practice has dipped and he hasn’t played as much. In recent weeks, Alden has made it a point to get out and play more, logging 126 holes over the last two weekends.
“I haven’t played that much in several years,” Alden said.
Alden may not quite be at the form he was at a year ago, but his belief remains potent. Part of excelling at golf requires the mind to fully believe in what you’re about to do, regardless of swing mechanics, technique or recent trends. Alden is a classic example of that.
Some may question why amateurs like Alden have such a burning desire to be great at golf with little to gain and almost zero financial benefits. After all, this is just a game at the end of the day. But the reason for playing and competing is much more complex. It fulfills the soul and, at the end of the day, provides just a little more satisfaction in someone’s life.
“I’m a super competitive person,” Alden said. “I just really love competing, and anybody who watches me play golf can see that I’m probably too competitive. But I just play because I want to play well. It’s one of the things in life that I’ve spent the most time doing and I enjoy it, and it’s just fun to compete. That’s the bottomline.”